interactive installation using Amazonian electric field-emitting fish, custom-built aluminum stands and acrylic tanks, 12-channel audio system, custom LED displays, custom software, Lemur touch screen, Mac and PC computers
localStyle (Marlena Novak and Jay Alan Yim, artists)(United States) in collaboration with Malcolm MacIver (bio-engineer)(Canada/United States)
Scale is an inter-species art project: an audience-interactive installation that involves nocturnal electric fish from the Amazon River Basin. Twelve different species of these fish comprise a ‘choir’ whose sonified electrical fields provide the source tones for an immersive audiovisual environment. The fish are housed in individual tanks configured in a custom-built sculptural arc of aluminum frames placed around a central podium. Each fish can be heard — unprocessed or with digital effects added, with immediate control over volume via a touchscreen panel — through a 12-channel surround sound system, and with LED arrays under each tank for visual feedback. All software is custom-designed.
The project leaders are comprised of a composer/sound designer (Jay Alan Yim), a visual artist (Marlena Novak), and a neural engineer (Malcolm MacIver). Novak and Yim, collaborating as localStyle, make intermedia works motivated by the theme of perception and that explore such topics as boundaries relating to physical and intangible properties, issues of trespass, and the mating behavior of hermaphroditic marine flatworms; MacIver’s research focuses on sensory processing and locomotion in electric fish and translating this research into novel bio-inspired technologies for sensing and underwater propulsion through advanced fish robots.
The world premiere of scale took place at the STRP Festival (18-28 November 2010, Eindhoven, NL), one of Europe’s most important presenters of art and technology; the project was supported in part by grants from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, Northwestern University’s Research Grant Council, and the Murphy Society.
Malcolm MacIver received a B.Sc. in Computer Science at the University of Toronto, an M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech in Mechanical Engineering, and is now an Associate Professor at Northwestern University in Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurobiology and Physiology. He’s a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering. The unifying theme of MacIver’s research is the analysis of animal intelligence using three approaches: mechanics and robotics for understanding the ways in which the body contributes to adaptive behavior; neurobiology for understanding the body’s control system; and computational modeling, for constructing large scale simulations. His broader community involvements include interactive art installations, writing for Discover Magazine’s “Science Not Fiction” blog, and consulting for major science fiction films and TV series.
Marlena Novak is a member of the faculty at Northwestern University where she teaches a variety of studio and new-media courses. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of New Mexico, visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Chicago, Cleveland Institute of Art, Amsterdams Instituut voor Schilderkunst, Pädagogische Hochschule (St. Gallen, CH), and a resident at the Creativity and Cognition Research Studios (Loughborough, UK) under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Her work is included in public (a.o. the Corcoran in Washington, DC and the Mondriaanhuis in Amersfoort, NL) and private collections in Europe and the USA, and has been presented in solo and group exhibitions in more than three dozen cities worldwide. In 2000, she co-founded the collaborative localStyle; using low and high tech means, their intermedia projects explore how thresholds and boundaries—whether physical or intangible—are constructed, interpreted, and negotiated.
Jay Alan Yim studied computer music at Stanford and MIT and music composition at the University of California Santa Barbara, the Royal College of Music, and Harvard. He currently teaches at Northwestern University. He has received fellowships from
the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council (three times), Tanglewood, Aspen, and many other awards. His music has been featured at international festivals (a.o. Darmstadt, Ars Musica, Wien-Modern, Gaudeamus, Almeida, Tanglewood, ISCM World Music Days, ICMC) and has been performed by artists such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Lyon, Nederlands Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Residentie Orkest Den Haag, Arditti Quartet, Nieuw Ensemble, JACK Quartet, and Frances-Marie Uitti. In 2010, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic commissioned and premiered neverthesamerivertwice for piano and orchestra. He co-founded localStyle with visual artist Marlena Novak in 2000.